The Catholic Church on Ecological Degradation

Anne K. Mosher (2015) & Heather R. Whittington (2004)

Marquette University


Laudato Si' (2015) by Pope Francis

The Pope calls for every person to engage in dialogue on how we should be living in and caring for our common home--Earth. This is the first Encyclical dedicated to moral concern about ecological degradation.

Bishops' Responses to Laudato Si'

Caritas in Veritate 41, 43, 48 – 52, 57, 58, 64, 75 (2009) by Pope Benedict XVI.

The Pope writes about how human life and dignity depends on how we treat and protect the ecological environment.

Spe Salvi 8, 25 (2007) by Pope Benedict XVI.

Future generations need us to respect and help the poor of today and the environments in which they live.

Deus Caritas est 30-31 (2005) by Pope Benedict XVI.

The Pope writes about solidarity – in order to be in unity and love the poor and vulnerable now and those in the future, people of today must take care of the world.

Sollicitudo Rei Socialis 9, 10, 13-16, 41-45 (1987) by Pope John Paull II.

Here it notes that there is a suppressive attitude on and lack of solidarity to love and help the poor and vulnerable and their environments.

Laborem Exercens 1, 5-6, 9-10, 12 (1981) by Pope John Paul II.

Since humans are made in the image and likeness of God, they have dominion over nature, which means we must take care of all aspects of life.

Redemptor Hominis 15-16 (1979) by Pope John Paul II.

Technology can be used for good, but currently is alienating humans from nature and causing exploitation and destruction rather than care.

Evangelium Vitae 42 (1995) by Pope John Paul II.

Humans are subject to moral laws to be responsible towards our environment.

Centesimus Annus 37-38 (1991) by Pope John Paul II.

Section of the encyclical in which the Pope declares that humans must preserve both the natural and human environments because they are interconnected.

Papal Messages and Addresses

Message of His Holiness Pope Francis on the Occasion of the 20th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on the Climate Change 12 December 2014. 

          The nations have a moral responsibility to find solutions to ecological probems, in particular climate change, to    

avoid adversely effecting future generations.

Message by Pope Francis on World Environment Day to a General Audience, 5 June 2013

Message of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace, 1 January 2010.

The Pope elaborates on the point that we need to protect creation in order to cultivate peace.

Message of John Paul II for the 23rd World Day of Tourism, 24 June 2002.
          The Pope speaks on being cautious about ecotourism.

"God made man the steward of creation" by Pope John Paul II to a General Audience, 17 January 2001.

Message of John Paul II for the Celebration of World Day of Peaceby Pope John Paul II, 1 January 1990.

"The Ecological Crisis: A Common Responsibility" by Pope John Paul II on the World Day of Peace, 1990.
          The first dedicated statement by a pope on the human-ecology relationship.

"A Hospitable Earth for Future Generations" by Pope Paul VI to the Stockholm Conference on Human Environment,

          1 June 1972.

Address to the FAO on the 25th Anniversary of its Institution by Pope Paul VI, 16 November 1970.

Apostolic Letter

Octogesima Adveniens 21 by Pope Paul VI (1971).

Exploitation of the environment is a human social problem.


Papal Homilies

Holy Mass on the Solemnity of Pentecost by Pope Francie, 24 May 2015

The Pope says that when we are renewed by the Spirit we can be in harmony with all of creation.

Mass, Imposition of the Pallium and Bestowal of the Fisherman's Ring for the Beginning of the Petrine Ministry of the Bishop of Rome by Pope Francis (Inaugural Mass), 19 March 2013.

Pope Francis calls for us to protect God's creation like St. Joseph protected Mary and Jesus.

Address at the Liturgy of the Word by Pope John Paul II (Zamosc Homily), 12 June 1999.           

In this homily given in Poland, the Pope urges responsibility and respect for God’s gift of nature.   


Papal Statements after Bishops’ Meetings

Ecclesia in Oceania 31, a Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation by Pope John Paul II (2001)

The Pope’s call to the people of Oceania to work towards preserving their environment.

Ecclesia in America 25, a Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation by Pope John Paul II, (1999)

The Pope's call to Americans for ecological preservation and reducing consumption.

Ecclesia in Asia 41, a Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation by Pope John Paul II (1999)

The Pope’s message to people of Asia to care for their environment.


Joint Declarations with and Statements by Patriarch Bartholomew

A Common Declaration on Environmental Ethics(The Venice Declataion), 2002

Pope John Paul II and Eastern Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.

Message for the Day of Prayer for the Protection of Creation, 1 September 2012

Address in Santa Barbara, California, 8 November 1997

Statements to International Organizations

"Water, an essential element for life" by the Holy See Delegation on the Occasion of the ThirdWorld Water Forum, 22 March 2003.

Note on the Celebration of the World Day of Biological Diversity by the Pontifical Council for Justice Peace, 22 May 2002.

"Environment and sustainable development: Protecting of global climate for present and future generations of mankind" by Monsignor Raffaele Martino on Item 98F, 28 November 2001.

Statement of Archbishop Martino, Head of the Holy See Delegation, to the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, Rio de Janeiro, 4 June 1992.

Calls for stewardship and solidarity in actions concerning development and the natural environment.

Pastoral Statements by Bishops

Appeal to COP21 Negotiation Parties by the Continential Bishops, 26 October 2015

Building a New Culture: Central Themes in Recent Church Teaching on the Environment by the Episcopal Commission for Justice and Peace of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, 28 January 2013.

Abolish Nuclear Plants Immediately by the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Japan, 8 November 2011

Pastoral Letter on Environment by the Canadian Conference if Catholic Bishops, 12 March 2008.

Statement on Environmental Issues by the Bishops of New Zealand, 1 September 2006.

"You love all that exists… All things are yours, God, Lover of life" by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, 4 October 2003. 

Pastoral Letter on the Environment by Most Rev. Dermot Clifford, Archbishop of Cashel and Emly, 8 March 2003.

This Irish archbishop calls for environmental stewardship and focuses on issues concerning water.

A New Earth - The Environmental Challenge by the Australian Catholic Bishops, 2002.

"Stewards of Life, Stewards of Nature" by Rev. James T. McHugh, Bishop of Camden, 2002.

Global Climate Change: A Plea for Dialogue, Prudence, and the Common Good by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2001.

The Columbia River Watershed: Caring for Creation and the Common Good by the Catholic Bishops of the Region, 8 January 2001.

"And God saw that it was good" by the Bishops of the Boston Province, 2000.

A Pastoral Letter on the Forests of the Sierra Tarahumara by the Catholic Bishops of Northern Mexico, 29 March 2000.

Reverence for Life: A Message for the Twenty-First Century (85-89) by the Catholic Bishops Conference of Japan, 1 January 2000

Pastoral Statement on the Environmental Crisis by the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference, 5 September 1999.

Encourages awareness and participation in conservation efforts.

"Celebrate Life: Care for Creation" by the Bishops of Alberta, Canada, 1998.

Partnership for the Future by the Roman Catholic Bishops in New Mexico, 11 May 1998.

"Christians and Their Duty Towards Nature" by the Australian Bishop’s Committee for Justice, Development and Peace, 1991.

Renewing the Earth: An Invitation to Reflection and Action on Environment in Light of Catholic Social Teaching by the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops, 1991.

"Companions in Creation" by the Bishops of Florida, 1991.

"Ecology: The Bishops of Lombardy Address the Community" by the Catholic Bishops of Northern Italy, 15 September 1988.

"The Cry For Land" by the Guatemalan Bishops Conference, 29 February 1988.

Letter focusing on the issues of agrarian land use and ownership in Guatemala.

"What is Happening to our Beautiful Land?" by the Catholic Bishops of the Philippines, 29 January 1988.

"Pastoral Letter on the Relationship of Human Beings to Nature" by the Dominican Episcopal Conference, 21 January 1987.



Catholic Climate Covenant:

National Religious Partnership for the Environment:

Catholic Conservation Center:

National Catholic Rural Life Conference:


Schaefer, J. and Tobias Winright, eds. (2013). Environmental Justice and Climate Change: Assessing Pope Benedict's Ecological Vision for the Catholic Church in the United States. Lexington Books.

Schaefer, J. ed. (2011). Confronting the Climate Crisis: Catholic Theological Perspectives. Milwaukee: Marquette Univeristy Press.

Schaefer J. (2009) Theological Foundations for Environmental Ethics: Reconstructing Patristic and Medieval Concepts. Washington DC: Georgetown University Press.

Keenan, Sister Marjorie (2002). From Stockholm to Johannesburg: An Historical Overview of the Concern of the Holy See for the Environment, 1972-2002. Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.
Dent, Sister Ancilla. ed. (1997). Ecology and Faith: The Writings of Pope John Paul II. Ipswich, Suffolk, Great Britian: Ipswich Book Company
United States Catholic Conference (1996).  Let the Earth Bless the Lord: God’s Creation and Our Responsibility, A Catholic Approach to the Environment. Washington DC: United States Catholic Conference, Inc.

Christiansen D. and W. Grazer, eds. (1996).  And God Saw That It Was Good: Catholic Theology and the Environment. Washington DC: United States Catholic Conference, Inc.

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